U.S. sends 300 more troops to Iraq over security concerns By Phil Stewart

DeM Banter:  So… it was 300 originally… then it was 200 more and now we are 300 more?  Are we at 500 or 800 now?  I think we can say–we’re back…

http://www.reuters.com / View Original / June 30th, 2014
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is ramping up its military presence in Iraq, deploying around 300 additional troops as well as helicopters and drone aircraft in response security concerns in Baghdad, officials said on Monday.

The decision announced by the Pentagon puts U.S. military personnel in a security role at Baghdad International Airport in the face of advances by an al Qaeda splinter group, three years after America’s military withdrawal.

As speculation swirls about whether President Barack Obama might authorize U.S. air strikes, a U.S. defense official said the moves were primarily focused protection of American personnel in Iraq, including civilians.

“This is not about (preparations) toward air strikes,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon said about 200 forces arrived on Sunday in Iraq to reinforce security at the U.S. embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport.

Another 100 personnel arrived in Iraq and many would be stationed at the airport, the official said.

“I think there’s an appropriate level of concern about the airport,” the official said, noting it was a vital transportation hub.

The Pentagon said a small number of helicopters and drone aircraft were also being deployed to Iraq.

The forces are in addition up to 300 military advisors that Obama authorized to be deployed to Iraq partly to set up two joint operations centers. They also will assess how the United States might provide additional support. About 180 of those advisers are already in Iraq.

The troop movements are part of the Obama administration’s attempt to help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s push back militants from the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), who have made stunning advances over the last few weeks.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was also considering putting up a new joint military operations center in the northwest of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. While no final decisions have been made, the official said the new operations center, which would be the second the United States has established since Iraq’s security deteriorated earlier this month, could be placed in the province of Duhok, in Iraq’s farthest northern reaches near Syria and Turkey.

U.S. forces at a similar joint operations center in Baghdad are gathering information about the situation on the ground and overseeing U.S. forces who are taking stock of the Iraqi military in the field.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. forces at the new joint operations center would be working primarily with the Peshemerga, the Kurdish forces that have long protected Iraq’s Kurdish enclave, or whether forces from the Iraqi military commanded from Baghdad would be involved.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bernard Orr, Toni Reinhold)

Obama Sends Advisers to Baghdad; Aides Say US Could Strike Inside Syria By Paul Mcleary

http://www.defensenews.com / View Original / June 19th, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced Thursday that he plans to send about 300 US military advisers to Iraq to assist the government in its fight against extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who have taken over vast swaths of the country’s Sunni-dominated west and north.

The United States is already flying manned and unmanned aircraft over Iraq to collect intelligence, a senior administration official said. As part of the ramp up in US aid, American drones could eventually be used to hit ISIL targets — even if some of those targets reside in Syria.

Speaking after the president’s announcement, the official said that any direct action by American forces against ISIL “would be in a more targeted and focused way if we felt there was a target on the ground that demanded our unique capabilities.”

But the official cautioned that the “several dozen” US special forces troops heading to Iraq over the coming weeks will first have to perform an assessment of the capabilities and “cohesion” of the Iraqi forces, as the purpose of the deployment is “a capacity-building mission on the ground and a broader intelligence mission” to help the Iraqis do the fighting themselves.

The American forces will begin work at the ministerial level to help create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning, but some teams could also operate as low as the brigade level with Iraqi forces in Baghdad and in northern Iraq.

Asked if the special forces teams will act as ground controllers directing Iraqi airstrikes, the official said, “we have not decided to have these types of teams calling in airstrikes. However, it is the case that one of the things you can do in a joint operations center in partnership with the Iraqis is share information and help them develop targets”

In his remarks, Obama downplayed the growing US military involvement in Iraq, saying the deployment of US troops is meant to help the government in Baghdad focus on political reconciliation between the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the restive Sunni population and the Kurds in the north.

“There’s no military solution inside of Iraq,” he said, “certainly not one that is led by the United States. But there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process, a more capable Iraqi security force and counterterrorism efforts that deny groups like ISIL a safe haven.

Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon Thursday morning, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, “we also know that in the long term, we need a sustainable solution for the whole region.

“That is, we have to integrate with diplomatic and political solutions for neighboring countries of the whole region,” she said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is also meeting this afternoon in a closed door hearing with Pentagon and Defense Intelligence Agency officials to get the latest on the situation in Iraq.

The reaction from Capitol Hill has been slow, with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi striking a skeptical tone at her weekly press conference, telling reporters, “I think that you have to be careful sending special forces because that’s a number that has a tendency to grow. And so I’d like to see the context, purpose, timeline and all the rest for anything like that.”

Conversely, Tim Kaine, D-Va., said after the president’s remarks that the dispatch of advisers “is a prudent move to assess the ISIL threat, and I look forward to continued close consultation with the administration on any potential military action.” ■

Dempsey: Iraq Has Requested US Airstrikes By Marcus Weisgerber

http://www.defensenews.com / View Original / June 18th, 2014
 
WASHINGTON — The Iraqi government has requested US military airstrikes to help combat widespread violence in Iraq, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the top American general told Congress Wednesday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the request during a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing when being questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“We have a request from the Iraqi government for airpower,” Dempsey said.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the Air Force would be ready to conduct air strikes and support missions in Iraq if directed by President Barack Obama.

“I’m very confident that if the order comes down … our Air Force would be ready,” James told the Defense Writers Group at a breakfast in Washington.

Not specifically speaking about Iraq, James said the Air Force could be ready within hours to conduct missions.

The Air Force could bring numerous “capabilities” if requested for a variety of missions in Iraq, including airlift, reconnaissance, strike, aerial refueling, and command and control, she said.

The Pentagon has basing arrangements with numerous countries throughout the Middle East, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Dozens of Air Force aircraft, including F-15E, F-16 and F-22 fighters; KC-135 tankers; A-10 strike aircraft; B-1B bombers; C-17 and C-130 transports; and an array of unmanned aircraft are already based or rotating though the region.

“We have a variety of assets already over there in the regular order and of course we have others that could be moved within a matter of a fairly short period of time should that be asked of us,” James said.

Additional assets could be brought into the Middle East, if necessary, she said.

The Obama administration is considering a number of options to combat ISIL, which has reportedly taken control of a number of cities throughout the country.

“The Air Force is fully engaged in the planning efforts and we are standing by with our sister services,” James said, noting she is not part of the administration’s contingency planning team.■

Airstrikes on Iraq Carry Risks as Obama Weighs Options By Tony Capaccio, David Lerman

DeM Banter:  Really?  “The war the U.S. thought had ended there in 2011” …did the “US” believe we ended the war or that we simply walked away, I seem to recall a post on the m100Group discussing how leaving the battlefield does not equate to victory but retreat–the enemy always gets a vote.

http://www.bloomberg.com / View Original / June 16th, 2014
The airstrikes that President Barack Obama is considering against Islamic militants in Iraq could prove as messy and inconclusive as the war the U.S. thought had ended there in 2011.

Unlike the strikes that preceded the Iraq and Afghanistan ground wars, any air offensive this time would come with the encouragement and support of the Iraqi government, giving the U.S. virtually complete control of the skies to curb the Sunni militants’ offensive.
Yet for all the available firepower of U.S. planes and missiles, with an aircraft carrier already in the Persian Gulf, airstrikes risk civilian casualties and may not be enough to defeat an irregular enemy moving through densely populated areas, defense analysts and administration officials said.

“One needs to be very careful about the downsides,” said Eric Edelman, a former Pentagon undersecretary for policy in President George W. Bush’s administration. Airstrikes “to be effective will require some kind of U.S. presence on the ground” to discern militant targets from civilians.

Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops back to Iraq, even as he opened the door to air attacks and increased military aid to help the Iraqi government defeat the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Ground Controllers

“U.S. airpower could help, but we need forward air controllers on the ground to assist in the targeting process,” said retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor, who helped implement the Bush administration’s surge of troops in Iraq in 2007. “So it is easier to say ‘no boots on the ground’ than to create a viable military option without them,” said Mansoor, now a professor of military history at The Ohio State University.

Secretary of State John Kerry voiced support for the possibility of airstrikes today in an interview with Yahoo! News.

“They’re not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys, in trucks, and terrorizing people,” Kerry said.

One important question for Obama to weigh is whether U.S. airpower is necessary to halt the ISIL advance, which appears to have slowed in recent days and so far hasn’t reached beyond majority Sunni areas where Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government is unpopular.

Local Support

Colin Kahl, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington who oversaw Middle East affairs at the Pentagon in Obama’s first term, said that without local support, “5,000 or 10,000 guys with guns can’t occupy and control western and northern Iraq, because we had 50,000 forces, and we couldn’t fully control” the region.

The U.S. has a formidable array of manned and unmanned aircraft in the region. The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, now in the Persian Gulf, has 65 aircraft on board, including 44 F/A-18 fighter-bombers and five EA-6B Prowler electronic jamming aircraft, according to Navy figures.

The carrier is accompanied by the guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and destroyer USS Truxton. Both are probably equipped with the latest-model Tomahawk cruise missiles, which are capable of flying to a target, then circling in patterns so they can be retargeted against mobile militants.

The U.S. Air Force has assets at bases in Qatar, Kuwait and other locations, including armed Reaper drones and 90 manned warplanes. The available aircraft include stealthy F-22 fighters, A-10 ground-attack aircraft, F-16 and F-15E fighter-bombers, and B-1B bombers all capable of dropping satellite- or laser-guided bombs.

Sunni Reluctance

The Sunni regimes in the Persian Gulf have signaled their reluctance to let U.S. warplanes use bases on their soil to attack fellow Sunnis, even the extremists of ISIL, said one U.S. official yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic communications. Some regional leaders, the official said, have indicated that they also would consider U.S. military aid to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led regime to be indirect support for Iran, which they consider an enemy.

While the U.S. would have virtually unlimited ability to mount manned and unmanned airstrikes without significant resistance, the main obstacle to doing so remains a lack of intelligence on moving targets that in many cases are intermingled with civilians, said U.S. military and intelligence officials.

Even the size of the jihadist force is in doubt. Although the militant group is said to number fewer than 10,000, it’s likely that other opportunistic fighters “may have jumped on the bandwagon,” making it difficult to estimate the force’s size, Kahl said.

Eroding Intelligence

American intelligence on Iraq has eroded dramatically since Obama withdrew the last U.S. troops from the country at the end of 2011, according to the U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss intelligence matters or internal policy discussions publicly.

Since then, they said, U.S. military and intelligence agencies increasingly have relied on the Iraqi military and government and on public sources for reporting on Sunni insurgent groups such as ISIL and Shiite militias, most of them backed by Iran. Many of the reports on Sunni groups, said two officials, have proved to be exaggerated, while those on Shiite forces and the role of Iran’s Quds Force and intelligence services in supporting them have been sketchy at best.

Further complicating matters, ISIL leaders communicate largely by couriers rather than making mobile phone calls that the U.S. National Security Agency can intercept, according to another U.S. official.

Damaging Losses

Some of the most damaging intelligence losses, this official said, have come in Sunni areas such as Anbar province, where the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency built close relations with tribal leaders who now think the Americans abandoned them after 2011.

“Any solution to the current crisis has to recognize that the Sunni Arab community has to be part of a more inclusive government,” said Daniel Green, who worked with Sunni tribes in Fallujah, Iraq, as a Navy officer in 2007.

Without a political compromise in place to lessen the religious tensions, “we’re just mowing the grass” by conducting strikes on militants, said Green, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Obama has made a commitment by al-Maliki’s government to political reform a condition of any possible U.S. military action.

Political Plan

“The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” Obama said June 13 at the White House.

The absence of reliable intelligence, the ability of militants to retreat to civilian areas and the danger of civilian casualties that would aid ISIL’s cause have made the Obama administration wary of launching airstrikes, all of the officials said.

“Many experts noted that ISIL has few clearly discernible targets that would not risk causing civilian casualties,” wrote Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs at the Congressional Research Service, in a report to Congress.

Mistakes from the air aren’t hard to fathom, said Austin Long, a former analyst and adviser to the U.S. Marine Corps. The ISIL militants have captured American vehicles, while many former Shiite militiamen are showing up in Sunni areas to fight the militants.

Pickup Trucks

“So say you get pretty good imagery off of a drone of some guys riding around in pickup trucks with AK-47s and no uniforms,” said Long, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York. “Who do you bomb? You might end up bombing Iraqi troops.”

Small teams of special operations forces may be sent to Iraq, “not in a combat sense but away from the front lines,” to advise their Iraqi counterparts on operations, Kahl said. The administration was weighing such an option, the Associated Press reported today, citing officials it didn’t identify.

Another obstacle is political, two U.S. officials said: ISIL is shipping substantial amounts of the weapons and equipment it seized from the collapsing Iraqi military across the non-existent border to Syria, where Obama so far has ruled out air attacks.

If Obama does decide to launch strikes, he has the legal authority to do so under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda and related groups because ISIL is a direct descendant of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the officials said.

Sunni Sympathy

Militants have gained the sympathy of some Sunnis in the northern territories who don’t “feel fully included” in al-Maliki’s government, Kiron Skinner, a defense fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, said in an interview.

“You can’t underestimate the power of local support” so “that’s why you got a relatively small band of people doing enormous damage,” said Skinner, who was a member of the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “There’s local support and lack of legitimacy in the central government.”

Whatever Obama decides, none of his options are good, said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University.

“There are probably military options that could stave off the collapse of the Iraqi government,” said Feaver, a former special adviser for strategic planning on Bush’s National Security Council. “But is President Obama inclined to run the risks associated with them, and can he mobilize public support for them? Those are more difficult hurdles for him to overcome.”

To contact the reporters on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net Larry Liebert

Op-Ed Can Obama pull a Nixon with the Iraq crisis? By ANDREW J. BACEVICH

DeM Banter:  Agree or disagree with Bacevich–the strategic implications are stunning…least we forget what happened to the US Military after the Vietnam war…are we seeing the same thing today?  Was it palatable then–historically it seemed to work.  Is is palatable today?  I guess…as always, time will tell.  Interesting times…

http://www.latimes.com / View Original / June 13th, 2014
For the United States, the Iraq war ranks as the most consequential foreign policy failure since Vietnam. In neither instance did U.S. forces succumb to outright defeat, of course. In both, with victory proving elusive, Americans wearied of the fight and simply walked away, abandoning the people for whom their troops had ostensibly fought.

In terms of outcomes, however, these two conflicts differ in crucial respects. In Vietnam, we quit and got away with it. Lyndon Johnson’s recklessness in expanding the war found its counterpart in Richard Nixon’s cynicism in ending it. When after a mere three years of “peace with honor” the Republic of Vietnam collapsed, Americans shrugged.

In Southeast Asia, many people — Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians — paid (and continue to pay) for the havoc that the United States wreaked there. By comparison, even taking into account the 58,000 American dead, this country paid next to nothing. Strategically, the United States got off scot-free. Committing to memory the war’s canonical lesson — “No more Vietnams” — Americans moved on. That was that.

Iraq offers a striking contrast. Considerably smaller in scale than Vietnam, America’s misadventure in Iraq has already given rise to vastly larger strategic implications. There, recklessness has found its counterpart not in cynicism but in an unfathomable combination of naivete and listlessness. The recklessness was that of George W. Bush. The naivete and listlessness — grandiose talk seldom translating into concerted action — have become the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s approach to statecraft.

Today, less than three years after President Obama declared that the Iraq war had ended — “an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making” — Iraqis confront the fate that befell the South Vietnamese. From the north, enemy formations — in 1975, it was the People’s Army of Vietnam; today, the legions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — are on the march. For observers of a certain age, the mournful roll call of fallen cities recalls the events of that earlier debacle. Then, it was Ban Me Thuot, Kontum and Pleiku. Today, it’s Mosul and Tikrit, with Samarra hanging in the balance. Then, the ultimate objective was Saigon. Today, Baghdad.

Baghdad itself may or may not eventually fall. Even so, the ISIS offensive has demolished the pretense that America’s war in Iraq ended in something akin to success, thanks ostensibly to David H. Petraeus and his “surge.” For Iraqis, their decent interval has expired and their day of reckoning is at hand. This time, however, in contrast to Vietnam, circumstances will not permit Americans to shrug off the aftermath.

Undertaken as a campaign in the Cold War, the Vietnam War proved irrelevant to the Cold War’s eventual outcome. Undertaken as a campaign in the misnamed global war on terrorism, the Iraq war has proved anything but irrelevant. Instead, it has destabilized much of the greater Middle East while exacerbating anti-Americanism across the Islamic world.

To extricate the United States from the unpopular war he had inherited from his predecessor, President Nixon sold out the South Vietnamese. Yet by simultaneously reaching an accommodation with China, he managed at least one trick: By the time Saigon fell, Nixon had reduced by one the roster of countries that Washington counted as problems or threats. He thereby salvaged a modicum of advantage acutely relevant to the as-yet-undecided Cold War.

Obama is not guilty of consciously selling out a former ally. To extricate the United States from an equally unpopular war that he inherited from his predecessor, he merely cut Iraq loose. Perhaps he had little alternative but to do so. Yet in terms of implications, Obama’s actions are much the same as Nixon’s: Iraqi problems are no longer our problems.

Unfortunately, signs of Obama repeating Nixon’s trick — offsetting failure in Iraq by securing compensatory advantage elsewhere — are hard to find. Instead, the roster of countries across the Islamic world that Washington views as problems or threats has grown appreciably.

As shrewd as he was amoral, Nixon contrived a way to limit the damage that Vietnam had done to U.S. interests. Obama has yet to demonstrate any comparable ability to limit the damage done by the Iraq war.

One glimmer of opportunity remains, in terms of daring and audacity the closest thing to a Nixonian gambit: Ending the U. S. diplomatic estrangement from Iran could yield a strategic realignment comparable to that produced by the opening to China, its effects rippling across the greater Middle East. There, rather than in misguided proposals for renewed U.S. military action, lies Obama’s chance to demonstrate that he has grasped the lessons that Iraq (along with Vietnam) has to teach. One can imagine Nixon himself relishing the prospect.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Iraq War III Has Now Begun By Michael Knights

http://www.foreignpolicy.com / View Original / June 11th, 2014
Images emerging from Mosul, Iraq’s embattled northern city, present a familiar scene to fans of zombie movies. Burned-out military vehicles are clustered together on empty streets. At every intersection there is evidence of desperate last stands. Strewn uniforms lay abandoned outside gutted police stations. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled for their lives. Mosul is a ghost town where only looters and stray dogs hazard the streets.

But this isn’t a zombie movie. It is Iraq’s second-largest city, the thriving political and economic capital of the country’s Sunni Arab community. In a matter of days between June 6 and 9, the city of 1.8 million people was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the al Qaeda affiliate that broke away in April 2013 to fight its own war and which has come perilously close to achieving its dream of a caliphate that reaches from the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon to Iran’s Zagros Mountains. The scenes from Mosul are now being replayed in a dozen other northern cities that have fallen to ISIS and other insurgent elements.

How did ISIS achieve this coup? Working from a secure base in Syria’s Raqqa province, ISIS seems to have carefully prepared operations in Mosul and a range of other cities as the opener to this year’s Ramadan offensive — a twisted annual tradition in Iraq since 2003, timed to coincide with the Islamic holy month that spans the length of July this year. The well-publicized ISIS takeover of Fallujah in January 2014 was opportunism, with the movement exploiting missteps by the Iraqi government to move in. In stark contrast, the Mosul assault appears calculated and deliberate, an attempt to collapse government control in northern Iraq and leave ISIS as the last man standing. So far, ISIS has been successful.

Formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS is an Iraqi-led militant group that draws its suicide operators primarily from international volunteers, its foot soldiers from Iraq and Syria, and its money chiefly from a mix of local organized crime rackets. ISIS has used the Syrian conflict to build its strength and assert its independence from al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, which disavowed it in February 2014. But the movement’s real ambitions rest in Iraq. The majority of ISIS’s leadership and rank and file are Iraqi, including its emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Control of western Mosul would place ISIS in charge of the political and economic capital of Sunni Iraq, a prize of tremendous propaganda value.

ISIS used battle-hardened fighters from the Syrian and Iraqi theaters to smash their way — in a matter of hours — into Mosul’s western neighborhoods from the Jazira, the Syrian-Iraqi desert between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Iraqi government’s weak grasp on the Jazira gave the movement the capacity to surge hundreds of fighters from Iraq and Syria into the battle of Mosul. Even so, the ISIS attack force does not appear to have been large, numbering between 400 and 800 fighters by various estimates. Surprise and aggression allowed the movement to crumble the morale of Iraq’s paramilitary police and army forces in Mosul in three days of hard fighting.

Let that sink in.

The 20 government security battalions in Mosul city seemed to dissolve completely on June 8-9, with significant video evidence of wholesale abandonment of positions by troops who ditched their vehicles and posts, took off their uniforms, and deserted. One photo shows a discarded police brigadier-general’s uniform. The two main security headquarters in Mosul were both overrun and looted by ISIS, as were the provincial governor’s offices. The Mosul branch of Iraq’s Central Bank has reportedly been looted and the historic Assyrian church set aflame. The Iraqi army logistics depot was abandoned to ISIS, who are reported to have burned over 200 U.S.-provided Hummers, trucks, and engineering vehicles. Mosul’s international airport and military airfield also fell to ISIS, with Iraqi helicopters reported destroyed on the ground and armored vehicles being quickly taken to Syria as war booty.

A desperate race has now commenced for control of Mosul. ISIS has achieved its basic aim of shattering any rival political or military institutions on the predominately Arab side of Mosul west of the Tigris River. Now it will try to rapidly reinforce the city using its open road across the desert to Syria and other Iraqi districts connected via the western desert. With the government’s control shaky all the way to Baghdad’s northern suburbs, ISIS has a shot at causing so much disruption that Baghdad will not be able muster the forces to retake Mosul for months.

The Iraqi government has no choice but to try to liberate Mosul, due to its symbolic and geographic importance. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the Mosul-based governor of Nineveh province, took to the streets on June 9 when he narrowly escaped the ISIS takeover of his offices. Carrying an assault rifle alongside his security detail, he sought to rally Mosul men to form self-defense militias at the neighborhood level. But such militias do not seem to have mobilized. All across northern Iraq, the Sunni citizenry will need to see the government return in force before they risk being pounded by ISIS car bombs, which would be the movement’s first recourse if local resistance were to emerge.

With shattered Iraqi military units rallying as far away as Taji, a base on Baghdad’s suburbs some 200 miles south of Mosul, the government’s counteroffensive could be slow in coming. Baghdad’s soldiers now have to fight their way through a belt of lost cities and districts between the capital and Mosul, creating plenty of potential distractions, which will drain strength away from the government riposte. Special forces and air units are reportedly rapidly becoming exhausted as they are shuffled from crisis to crisis. The only military force in Iraq that is not presently overcommitted is the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government, but relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish region are particularly strained.

Seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, the United States has been forced to walk a fine line with jihadist groups in Syria. ISIS was only confirmed as a U.S.-designated terrorist movement in February 2014. But while there may be a strategic use for hard-line Islamist militants in Syria, in Iraq the issue is simple: ISIS is winning the war and they must be stopped.

Washington must act if the United States wants to stop ISIS from becoming the only cohesive military and political force in Iraq’s Sunni districts. On June 10, Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq’s parliamentary speaker and most senior Sunni politician, requested greater military support for Mosul under the auspices of the 2011 U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, the treaty that governs relations between the two countries. Behind closed doors, multiple Iraqi government officials relayed to me, the Iraqi government has insistently requested U.S. air strikes on ISIS along the Syrian border and the outskirts of Iraqi cities, which are the launch pads for ISIS takeovers. For the U.S. administration this has been seen as a step too far. Instead, the U.S. government has been engaged in internecine diplomacy — using its good offices to prod Iraq’s factions towards a national reconciliation effort that could give Sunni Arabs faith in a nonviolent resolution to their complaints of discrimination by the Shiite government. Reconciliation could also lay the groundwork for Sunni Arab cooperation in stabilizing Mosul and other lost areas, such as Fallujah. This is vital work — but with ISIS forces capturing city after city, Washington has to do more (and quickly) to prevent the loss of government in Iraq. Intensified U.S. on-the-ground mentoring of Iraqi military headquarters and perhaps U.S. air strikes might also be needed to reverse the collapse of Iraq’s military.

The Obama administration is determined to honor its campaign pledge to end the wars. To that end, the White House withdrew U.S. combat troops in 2011. However there is an increasingly strong case that Iraq needs new and boosted security assistance, including air strikes and a massively boosted security cooperation initiative to rebuild the shattered army and mentor it in combat. The Middle East could see the collapse of state stability in a cross-sectarian, multiethnic country of 35 million people that borders many of the region’s most important states and is the world’s fastest-growing oil exporter. Any other country with the same importance and the same grievous challenges would get more U.S. support, but the withdrawal pledge has put Iraq in a special category all on its own. Washington doesn’t have the luxury of treating Iraq as a special case anymore. ISIS has moved on since the days of the U.S. occupation and they have a plan. Washington should too.

We Are Losing the War on Terror By John Hudson

http://www.foreignpolicy.com / View Original / June 10th, 2014

The ground truth about the spread of terrorism will be a hard one for many Americans to swallow after 13 costly years of war. Terrorism is spreading worldwide. Our enemies have sustained our blows, adapted, and grown. Two questions loom large as a consequence: Where did we go wrong and what do we do now?

Recent headlines and new studies support the conclusion that global terror trends are heading in an ever more dangerous direction. In early June, the Rand Corporation released a study that detailed the growing threat. It reports that in 2007, there were 28 Salafi-jihadist groups like al Qaeda. As of last year, there were 49. In 2007, these groups conducted 100 attacks. Last year, they conducted 950. The study estimates that there were between 18,000 and 42,000 such terrorists active seven years ago. The low-end estimate for last year, at 44,000, is higher than the top estimate for 2007, and the new high-end estimate is 105,000. The administration rightly argues that “core al Qaeda” has sustained “huge” damage. But “core al Qaeda” no longer poses the principle threat to the U.S. homeland. That comes, according to the Rand report, from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As Rand summarizes the report: “Since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of jihadist fighters and a tripling of attacks by Al Qaeda affiliates. The most significant threat to the United States, the report concludes, comes from terrorist groups operating in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

START-GTD-2013-Terrorist-Attacks-Concentration-Intensity-MapAs legitimate as the questions that have emerged in the Bowe Bergdahl case may be, they are secondary to the deteriorating situation associated with the war the recently released prisoner went to Afghanistan to fight. There is no denying that the contempt for Congress shown in failing to inform it of the deal — even as perhaps 100 in the administration knew of it — starkly reveals the cynicism behind last year’s faux deferral to Congress on Syria. But it would be far more cynical to continue with the Obama team’s variation on the “mission accomplished” misrepresentations of his predecessor. The war in Iraq was not over or won when we said it was. Nor is the war on terror won or the threat it poses resolved simply by no longer using the term or suggesting our goal was merely to inflict damage on the tiny fraction of terrorists who were associated with the 9/11 attacks. The reality is that we are still fighting the last war on terror even as a new set of risks loom and are made worse by our minimizing their implications for political purposes.

In its recent assessment, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” the State Department acknowledged the trend. It observes that last year attacks worldwide increased almost by half, from 6,700 to 9,700. Nearly 18,000 people died and nearly 33,000 were injured. While the report hails allied forces for making progress combating al Qaeda’s core in the AfPak region, it also notes that the group’s affiliates are becoming more dangerous. The report takes particular note of the threat posed by foreign extremists in Syria, which has become a kind of petri dish in which a growing global terror threat is being cultivated. Estimates on the number of such fighters range from 7,000 to over 20,000. The news that one recent suicide bomber in Syria was an American and that one of the attackers behind the recent shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium spent time in Syria suggests how this threat may evolve over time. It’s not unlikely that, if left unchecked, the long-term consequences of a cadre of fighters trained in Syria who will soon return to their home countries will be one of the darkest legacies of that war — a legacy that may well echo the long-term costs associated with training jihadists in the battle against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s, among whom, of course, was Osama bin Laden.

Sleepwalking Into a Trap
On just one day this week, Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for an attack on Karachi’s international airport that killed 30 people, while in Baluchistan 23 Shiite pilgrims were killed in gun and bomb attacks. (A follow-up attack on the Karachi airport’s security academy occurred less than 48 hours later.) That same day, 52 people were killed in bombings in Baghdad. Elsewhere that day a female suicide bomber attacked a barracks in Nigeria. Scores more died in the fighting in Syria — many at the hands of the government, to be sure, but many also as victims of extremists.
Such attacks pass with little more than perfunctory comment from our leaders or the media. Yet we are numbed to such attacks at our peril. We compound the risk associated with such numbing by rationalizing them away. The Rand report notes that the number of “near abroad” attacks is up while the number of “far abroad” attacks has gone down. This is a way of saying that the threat to the U.S. homeland appears to be less from these fragmented, decentralized groups. The report also suggests that such groups are more easily defeated or turned against one another. The State Department presented its report with comments from its spokesperson that “the numbers [of attacks] against Americans have been very low for a long time and have continued to go down.”

That fewer Americans are being killed and fewer terrorists are seeking to hit targets on U.S. soil is no doubt a very good thing. Much credit for producing such an outcome is due to the U.S. intelligence community and our military for reducing those risks to our homeland security establishment and the private sector organizations with which they must collaborate to be successful. But it would be as dangerous today to interpret current trends as being positive because one particular past enemy is in decline or because at the moment the risk to Americans at home is lower as it was for top officials to underappreciate the threat posed by bin Laden immediately before the 9/11 attacks.
That’s the dangerous trap into which we risk falling. By overly focusing on narrowly addressing the threats identified with the attacks 13 years ago, we risk creating precisely the same conditions that led to those attacks… and ignoring other, perhaps more serious, emerging threats.

For example, serious threats exist to U.S. interests that are not threats to the homeland. The disintegration of Syria is such a threat. The creation of a failed state bordering Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq poses deep and lasting risks to the region. One manifestation of how such a threat can spread is visible right now in Iraq, where ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), a group that cut its teeth in the Syria conflict, has just seized control of much of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

This compounds ISIS gains in Fallujah and across Anbar province. Should the Iraqi government fail to regain control of this region, the consequences of an extremist rump state on Jordan’s eastern border and of conflict with Kurds in the north are grave. Such a scenario is quite possible, in fact; 11 years after the United States went to war with Iraq we could be on the verge of seeing it fracture into an extremist Sunni state in the west and an Iranian puppet state in the east — perhaps the worst possible outcome we could have envisioned. It raises the question: What is the opposite of “mission accomplished?” And another: Who lost Iraq? (That the destabilization that caused this was triggered by an Afghan-based extremist’s group attack on the United States is illustrative of how unpredictable, convoluted, and widespread the aftershocks of terror attacks can be.)

This last point in turn should lead to the recognition that the cultivation of extremist threats within failed states like Syria or weak states like Iraq, Yemen, or Libya or those in sub-Saharan Africa seems certain to produce a new generation of jihadists who will soon pose a threat worldwide. That such groups have gained important footholds in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and in the Horn of Africa should be very worrying to us. While they seem like distant places and the damage is not now being visited on Americans, what will be the cost in terms regional stability, access to vital resources, flows of immigrants and refugees to new countries that can ill-afford to house them, etc.?

The Risks Posed by National Narcissism
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks we had a number of reactions to the trauma it caused. Some were natural — like seeking to exact a punishment on those behind the attacks. Some were sound national security policy — like seeking to keep the attackers from ever attacking us again, and increasing the tools we have to anticipate or mitigate future risks. Some were dangerously ill-considered — like invading Iraq. Some were damaging to our national standing — like surveillance overreach or the use of torture. Today, we are learning the lessons of this period of reaction, this era in which so many of our initiatives seemed to be driven by fear of a future attack. That is why it would be both ironic and perilous for us to fail to learn one of the first lessons of what happened on 9/11, which is that in today’s globalized, technologically empowered world, there is no such thing as a distant problem. All can make their way to our doorstep with lightning speed.

This does not mean we must intervene everywhere against everyone. The first War on Terror was clearly mismanaged in many sometimes profoundly damaging ways. Indeed, some of our best antidotes to the risk posed by terror are not war at all but good intelligence, good police work, and a renewed focus on economic, social, and institutional development. Certainly, invading and destabilizing extraneous countries only makes matters worse.

One of the most pervasive problems behind the first War on Terror was national narcissism — the sense that now that this problem that had afflicted so many for so long had taken a big enough toll on us, it was all about us, entirely up to us to handle in whatever way we saw fit, the laws of nations and the international community be damned. But there is another insidious consequence of such nationalism. It is the mistaken belief — the one that afflicted us prior to 9/11 and was one of its proximate causes — that if such problems did not impact our shores and our people, they never would; they weren’t our concern. We can’t let such a view delude us into complacency now.

As Seth Jones, the author of the Rand report, has said, “Based on these threats, the United States cannot afford to withdraw or remain disengaged from key parts of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it may be tempting for the U.S. to turn its attention elsewhere and scale back on counterterrorism efforts. But [our] research indicates that the struggle is far from over.”

We dare not drop our guard. And we must find ways to work even more vigorously with the international community, with our allies, with stable regional governments upon which we can depend and with whom we can collaborate, to do whatever we can to reverse this disturbing recent trend. President Barack Obama’s West Point speech — which suggested that we could now safely start to hand off such issues to partners on the ground — has, in the case of Pakistan and Iraq, been debunked within the last few days. We cannot put this effort on autopilot and forget about it. Instead we must develop new strategies and new active and committed alliances — like finding ways to work more closely with the Chinese, who face a similar threat at home, reinvigorating how the Atlantic Alliance works together on such issues, and working more closely with the more moderate Sunni states in the Middle East. Our new efforts will require more aid (and unlike with some of our Syria promises, aid that is swiftly delivered when it can make a difference). They will mean more technical assistance and training. More shared intelligence. More military support and, yes, action when it is the only and best available option. And above all it will mean instilling the sense of urgency that should be associated with any endeavor, like this one to protect our citizens and interests, in which we are so clearly losing ground.